Oh, Nippori Textile Town. It’s hard for me to even begin to describe it because I know I’ll sound sappy and overdramatic. But it’s a truly magical place for anyone who loves fabric. And boy, do I love fabric.
It’s surreal to be sharing this post right now – I can’t believe that just over 2 months ago I flew halfway around the world, and now I barely leave my house! But I think we’re all in need of a virtual adventure, so I hope you enjoy this photographic trip to Japan.
My first visit to Nippori was in the fall of 2015. It was delightful and overwhelming. I was determined to see as many of the shops as I could – I just had to see everything to really get a feel for the place and my options. This is my typical way of absorbing new places, especially when there’s something as valuable as “fabric variety” at stake.
My research served me well because for this trip, I was able to prioritize. You might think this means I spent less time in Nippori than on my first trip… oh no. I spent a day and a half exploring the fabric street. But the majority of that time was spent at Tomato – specifically, the bottom floor of the big Tomato store: the sale floor.
There are multiple small Tomato shops on the street, each with a different focus: notions, home decor fabrics, fashion fabrics. But the heart of Nippori is the 5-story mega-Tomato store, filled with mostly quilt-weight cottons.
My recommendation is to take the elevator to the top, then walk through each floor on your way down. Each floor has specific fabrics, some are grouped by country of origin, others by fabric type. There’s one floor of novelty fabrics, with great holiday prints and prints of all the animated characters you could want: Hello Kitty/Sanrio, Pokemon, Nintendo, Miffy, even some Japan-exclusive Disney prints. And of course, there are the Nani Iro and Kokka sections, made for swooning.
My recommendation is to swoon away, soak it all in, but don’t buy anything until you’ve explored the ground level, the sale floor. This is where I’ve found so many treasures! It’s like eating salad before a meal: snagging some good sale fabrics helps me to exercise better restraint with the full-priced fabrics.
Fabric prices in Japan are similar to those in the US, in my opinion. The nice quilting fabric starts around $7-8 per meter and then goes up to $20 or so for the Echino Kokka or Nani Iro designer fabrics. The sale floor, though, averages $4-8 per meter and there’s even a section where all fabrics are 100 yen per meter – about a dollar! Most of these are what you’d expect for the bargain-bin zone, just solid fabrics of varying weights, but a lot of it is great quality (if mysterious in content).
I’m sure you can find just about any fabric in Nippori, but since I’m always limited by suitcase space, I aim for print cottons because that’s what I think Japan does best. Japanese fabrics are adorable while not being 100% cutesy. I can never get over how many normal-seeming prints have animals hiding throughout, like the Hello Kittys and polar bears in the fabrics above.
Many of the prints are whimsical; many are geometric or modern. They’re all just so much fun.
Besides Tomato, here’s what I call “my other favorite shop”, or also, “the shop with the red awning with the cute little girl with scissors”. It does also have a real name: Yamayo (24 on the map). They obviously can’t compete with the sheer volume of inventory at Tomato, but they have a well curated selection of quilting cottons and novelty prints, plus some fun notions and tools.
Another treasure trove is Satoh Bin, down at the end of the street. It’s extremely unassuming from the outside, but if you’re anything like me, the rubbermaid bins full of clearance remnants will draw you right inside. They had all sorts of fun stuff, all in half-meter cuts: past seasons of Cotton and Steel, Alexander Henry, and other quality designer quilting cottons. Each cut is marked with its price, and some of them are crazy cheap! Even the most expensive were around 500 yen / $4.50 USD for a half meter but many of the pieces were 150-200 yen.
Finally, I know what you’re thinking – show me what you bought already! Here are the gems that came home with me. A lot of linen-blend cottons in the best jewel tones. Some fun animals: polar bears, space animals!, French bulldogs, Shiba Inus with sushi. And of course some Cotton + Steel remnants, and just about any fabric with gold metallic ink.
I’ve already started cutting into some of these and can’t wait to share my next few projects with you. Fabrics like these sure make it easy to want to sew happy things!
It’s extremely easy to get to Nippori from Narita airport – the Skyliner goes straight from Narita to Nippori with no stops. The ride is less than an hour and costs about $25 USD each way. Or you can arrive from anywhere in Tokyo by subway. The Tokyo subway is extremely intimidating, but I just focus on where I need to go and block the rest out, and that works. Also, each stop has a number as well as a name which is hugely helpful if you don’t speak Japanese.
Here are my favorites. The numbers correspond to the Nippori guide map.
24. Yamayo (Google Maps)
22. And Leather (Google Maps)
59. Tomato, main shop (Google Maps)
79. Satoh Bin (Next to humongous, Google Maps)
To see my haul from my first time in Nippori, visit Fabric Shopping in Japan on the Fluffyland blog.
Quilt top DONE! I spent most of Thursday piecing and sewing. I had arranged and pinned the turquoise triangles Wednesday night, so I knew that if I powered through, I could finish both the turquoise section AND the cobalt section to finish the quilt top by Thursday night. It was a lot of sewing for one day, but I’m so excited to have a completed quilt top!
I immediately wrapped it around my shoulders and ran (carefully) down the stairs to show David my “coat of many colors”.
Quilting has been wonderful for keeping my hands busy while my mind wanders or listens to stories and podcasts. I’m always looking for recommendations! Here are a few of my favorites at the moment.
In daily snippets, I’m loving the Robinhood Snacks Daily Podcast. It might not seem like the best time for financial news, but the hosts are goofy and give good perspective on the incredibly volatile market movement lately. It’s interesting to hear how different companies are responding to what the hosts call “the coronaconomy”.
And in longer form, I’ve been listening to Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a compilation of essays that were previously published in a variety of magazines. It’s always wonderful to listen to an audiobook read by the author, and this is no exception… I love Patchett’s subtle but endearing Tennessee drawl. The essays are the perfect length for sewing entertainment – they’re long for essays, at about 1-1.5 hours each, so they give me a good amount of focused time but then remind me to take breaks. I just completed her novel State of Wonder (in visual-book, not audiobook, form) and was entranced! So it’s fun to listen and absorb her non-fiction writing for some contrast.
And, especially while doing the endless ironing that a quilt requires, I’ve been streaming lots of Bluprint classes (free for another 3 days!). I’m trying to soak up as much about free-motion quilting as I can, because I’m hoping to quilt this one myself on my home machine. I’ve never wrestled a quilt this big through the quilting process, but multiple instructors have shown me that it’s possible, so I’m going to try.
I even chose my backing last week! The majority of my stash is half-yard to 1.5-yard cuts, so I was convinced I’d either have to piece a backing or wait to go to the store (not a great option!). But then I remembered this mustard cactus print. It’s a block print I found in Jaipur, and I loved it so much that I bought five whole yards. Five yards! That’s unheard of for me. And wouldn’t you know, but that’s exactly what I need for this quilt. I have about a foot left over.
It’s always hard to use a fabric that I love so dearly, but as I said at the beginning, a main goal of this quilt is to give life to some of my most beloved fabrics so they’re not just confined in bins forever. So as much as I dreamed of using the mustard cacti to make as many projects as I could… it will be a well-loved quilt back and this is a place of honor for it.
It’s also very, very soft! And was I really going to be able to wear that color? Absolutely not.
Now I’m just waiting on my batting to be shipped by the skeleton crew at Joann’s… but it’s already looking very much like a Real Quilt!
Yesterday I completed all the yellow rows, which brought me to 10 finished rows out of 18 total… more than halfway there! I laid out all the turquoise blocks last night, and pinned them all so they’re ready to sew today. After that, all that’s left is blue!
I can’t believe it, but this means by tonight I could have a completed quilt top!
The photo above shows all of the blocks that will make up this quilt. I’ve taken my many, many cut squares and sewn them all into pairs of triangles.
Now I’m faced with the true challenge of arranging the blocks. This is not at all an exact science, and my only basic rule is that two triangles from the exact same fabric cannot touch. Beyond that, I want the layout to be random but visually pleasing. This means no big clumps of one color or pattern, a good distribution of my white and gold “sprinkle” accent fabric, and a gradual transition from one color group to the next.
In practice, this means a lot of placing fabrics down and then blurring my eyes, looking squintily at the quilt to make sure I’m not missing any odd repeats or off sections.
This stage is creatively taxing but also so full of reward, because I’m finally building a quilt: not just a pile of squares, but a cohesive unit.
Laying out the blocks on the table and seeing them all together is a great preview, but seeing them all sewn together is 100 times better. The lines are so crisp and clean, and most of my points line up! Row by row, it’s all coming together.
As you can imagine, self-isolation translates to some of the fastest progress I’ve ever made on a project of this magnitude. I’m hopeful that I’ll actually finish this quilt in a reasonable amount of time (or at all… it’s much more fun to start quilts than it is to finish them). But I’m making lots of progress and keeping momentum.
Now that all my squares are cut, it’s time for the fun part: sewing my HST blocks. In my first QUILTID-19 post, I laid out some blocks to start to visualize the layout and decided that I do want to aim for a rainbow gradient approach. So the majority of my HST blocks will be pairs of the same color: pink-pink, orange-orange, etc. But there will also be a smaller number of blocks that I’m calling “bridge blocks”, whose two triangles are from different but adjacent color families: pink-orange, orange-yellow, and so on.
I made lots of stacks and began methodically pairing fabrics to make sure I didn’t end up with a bunch of identical blocks. In the end, there will be 2 or 4 of each block in the quilt, since each of the squares makes two identical HST blocks. With a total of 270 blocks, that means there’s a lot of different blocks! I love math, but I never liked statistics… but this was a permutations problem for sure.
I chain-pieced my way through the stacks. Chain piecing is fun because you don’t cut the thread in between blocks – you just keep sewing, and the thread makes a chain connecting them all. It’s nice and fast. Of course, 270 blocks, so it still takes time, but it’s efficient.
Here’s a preview of the quilt idea on a small scale. I’m excited about one addition: at the last minute I decided to add this ivory + metallic gold “sprinkle” print. There aren’t too many of these blocks, but just enough to add some contrast and make the bright colors pop even more.
Next: pressing the blocks flat, trimming them square, and laying out the quilt itself!